Courage to Give Honest Feedback – PART 1

 In Develop & Coach


Giving honest feedback is not always easy, but it’s a skill you can master with practice.

One of our clients asked this question in casual conversation and it got me to thinking about the lesson I learned, “What is the hardest thing you’ve had to learn as an HR pro?”

Wow, what a complex question! I could give so many answers to this one and it was fun to get a question about my own experiences.

So here goes a little saga about how I had to learn to have the courage to give honest feedback.

One of the most difficult things for people to do (including myself in certain circumstances) is to give direct and honest feedback. We expect it will be painful to receive or that will be negatively perceived.

Ugh, I hate having to do it too, but it’s not something that you can avoid if you are a manager or if you are a professional that wants to be successful working with your team. Let me explain by giving you an example of a situation I had to handle….

Many years ago (it’s not really important how many years ago, is it??) I worked for an extremely large multi-national company as an HR Manager in the corporate office. My days were full of conflict resolution, communication issues, operational problem-solving and lots of other fun stuff.

One day, I was approached by an employee in the purchasing department with a concern about his manager. Let’s call the employee, Ed, and the manager, Karen. (By the way, all names have been changed to protect the guilty, oh yeah.) Apparently, this employee had seen his manager one evening at dinner with another manager from another department. I’ll call him John.

Both of these managers were peers and led teams in their respective areas. What made this “weird” as the employee said was that they were obviously being affectionate with each other.

Rumors are Damaging – Good leaders need the courage to give honest feedback in the workplace

Ed had been hearing rumors from co-workers that Karen and John were dating each other. Now, I’d like to say that my strongest recommendation to anyone is to NOT date people you work with. Even if you don’t report to each other (which can lead to all kinds of illegal behavior), don’t report to the same manager and even if you are both single.

But, that is where I live in my own little fantasy world, right? In the real world, where we spend so much of our day at work, sometimes working long hours going through stressful situations, it’s natural that chemistry might occur. How you deal with that can say a lot about your maturity. And it’s one reason why you really have to have the courage to give honest feedback.

Anyway, Ed’s real issue was one of moral character. Apparently, Karen was still married, although separated from her spouse. Her direct report, Ed, felt she could not be trusted and that she was not the person he could respect as his leader. Wow. I had to really think about this one!

Is rumor control a management issue?

Some of you might think the situation was really none of his or my business. But, perception is reality to people and this employee was threatening to quit. He was a key person on this team and it would have been terribly unfortunate if a “personal” situation such as this had caused his resignation.

I began to hear the gossip and rumors about Karen and John and people were making sly remarks about how they weren’t setting a good example and were being sneaky. After much thought and hearing one of the top leaders make a joke of them, it became apparent to me that the situation was disruptive to the entire workforce.

Unfortunately, it came to me to address the situation with Karen and John. Their respective managers were not comfortable addressing the situation alone, so after discussing the issue and deciding on our approach, I held a meeting with Karen and then with John.

Stay tuned for our next installment of why it’s important to have courage to give honest feedback in the workplace: Be A Brave Leader

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